How to get there when you can’t read the map

I take location for granted. MapQuest predates my driver’s license, so getting from point A to point B has NEVER involved getting out a map. These days, I don’t even think about directions until I’m already in the car, where I fire up Google Maps on my phone.

Panama slowed me down a bit. Though you can find whole streets easily, plugging in an address doesn’t yield any kind of useful result. And with addresses like ours — “España Way, next to Hotel Via España” — what more could you expect?

Now we’re in Japan. Why didn’t I anticipate this?!

Google Maps - Japanese

Though in retrospect it seems pretty silly to think we’d get English over here, every mapping tool I’d ever come across used the Latin alphabet, so I just assumed…

It turns out there’s NO decent Japanese map labeled in English. Even if we’re able to pull a restaurant up on Google Maps, we can’t read the street names or tell which subway stations are nearby.

But we CAN get latitude and longitude coordinates.

Google Maps - lat-long

We bought our GPS watches with this very situation in mind. We’ve used them tracking down restaurants, going to grocery stores, and finding our way home.

Today we’re just the exception, but GPS is fast becoming the rule. Remember back when a camera phone was a big deal?

We’re about to see a consumer GPS explosion as everyone scrambles to include it. In fact, we’re already well on the way.

Thanks to the FCC, every single Verizon and Sprint phone sold since 2005 has it, and as AT&T and T-Mobile modernize their networks they’ll have to include it too. Nokia says they’ll offer “tens” of GPS-enabled handsets by the end of 2008, and they’re domainating the scene with a 40% global market share.

Not only is the system is so simple Tynan can master it, but it’s ideally suited for international use.

All you need are two data points, and they just happen to be in Arabic numerals, the most universally-recognized format on earth. That’s why so many Asian sites use numeric domains.

Numeric domains

What does this mean for you? Expect to see GPS coordinates making their way into everyday navigation tools.

Destinations will provide latitude and longitude in addition to street addresses. Fitness sites will include downloadable waypoints for running and biking routes. Friends meeting up will be able to share their exact locations.

It won’t be long before you see Lonely Planet supplementing their listing for Brown Rice Cafe with 35.665863, 139.710058.

Online mapping took over because it’s SIMPLER. Now we’re going a step further. Google Maps shows you which streets to take, but GPS eliminates your dependency on street signs.

Soon, using only the phone in your pocket, you’ll be able to navigate to any location on the planet with only two numbers. That’s pretty powerful.

If you’re in Tokyo, come visit us at 35.656, 139.699. 🙂

11 thoughts on “How to get there when you can’t read the map”

  1. Why did the FCC make Verizon and Sprint phones have GPS? Is that real GPS or the cell-phone tower thingy.

    Consumer GPS explosion is long overdue though.

  2. @Todd:
    This site has some translations overlaying Google maps. Not the greatest but better than nothing:

    Cell phones are required to have GPS positioning functionality for emergency (911) calls so they can locate you easily. Phones aren’t required to have GPS mapping capabilities.

  3. Hey guys, welcome to Japan. You came just in time to see the cherry blossoms. I recommend a trip to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha and the shrines and temples in the area. I don’t think its but an hour from Tokyo. Good luck.

  4. Eric, thanks for reading! Hope you and the Casa crew are well.

    Magnus, Matt’s got it. Verizon and Sprint’s phones use hybrid GPS and cell triangulation location, while AT&T and T-Mobile have been using triangulation alone.

    Matt, thanks for the suggestion! Not bad for seeing the English names of the train stations. Love the family-friendly URL.

    Jimbo, we’ll check it out! We’ve been talking about where to go outside of Tokyo… great timing, thanks.

  5. I´ll have to start using the gps here in Panama to practice.
    If i cant get to the place i still can ask where it is in my language…jeje
    Take care

  6. check out for some housing options. You can pick up the magazine at bookstores that have English publications too. It is also a good tool for learning the language.

    I am in Tokyo area for about two more weeks before heading back to the states. Enjoying the blog and the tips.

  7. Indeed Todd, you are very clever. I so enjoy reading about your adventures and your ability to “navigate” your way through anything!

  8. Hey TI,
    It sounds like your travels are going well. I am loving the pics that you and Ty have uploaded (It is my current wallpaper). I hope that this message finds you well. P.S. You are indeed clever.

    Hugs and kisses,

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